Spielwarenmesse: The trend is going towards organic products

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Nature Zoo Giraffe
  Movers & shakers

Movers & shakers

The trend is going towards organic products

from Ulrich Texter

NatureZOO is a Danish toy company based in Copenhagen and founded in 2010. The brand is characterized by three factors: the products made by hand, the use of high-quality bamboo yarn and the Danish design that is part of the company’s DNA and which is a global selling point. We talked to Vibeke Elise Bay, designer and owner of natureZOO.

Spielwarenmesse®: Mrs. Bay, it seems to us that design and architecture still plays a big role in the everyday life of the Danes today. What is the reason for this?

Vibeke Elise Bay founder and designer of natureZoo.

Vibike Bay: I think the water surrounding Denmark together with the fresh climate plays a great role in our mindset and our preferences also within design, shape, materials and colours. The water together with the cold and fresh climate brings purity and simplicity into our minds – it influences our mindset and spills over in the design and architectural aspects as well.

What characterizes the so-called Nordic style? Is it a kind of simplicity in a complex world?

V. B.: To me the Nordic style is about pureness, simplicity and natural elements. It is a kind of cold, simple and natural style. It’s very basic and without a lot of extra decoration. We like to keep it simple, and this could very well get even more important during the next years as a contra reaction to our increasingly complex world. All the digitalization requires a counterpoint, and a way to get this counterpoint is to focus even more on the simple and the pure – going back to nature.

Let's come to natureZOO. What makes natureZOO special? In which tradition do you see yourself as a designer?

V. B.: I would like to start by saying, that I am not traditionally educated as a designer – my personality, my creative intuition, my life experience and my everyday influencers have ‘educated’ me to be a designer.

What kind of education do you have then?

V. B.: I actually have a Master in International Marketing & Management from Copenhagen Business School, and I have been working in the Marketing department for international companies such as IBM, Nestlé and Bonduelle, before I founded natureZOO of Denmark in 2010. My working experience within these companies has given me a solid international foundation, which has been very useful for me ever since. I used to both develop products and launch them in the different Nordic countries, and this working experience really has been helpful with my own company because there are many aspects that are the same no matter the category.

Hand rim Sir Elefant
Hand rim Sir Elefant made with Oeko-Tex yarn.

And what were the reasons to design and produce handmade toys?

V. B.: The reason I got into the toy and accessories business is my 3 sons – you have probably heard this motive before from other women starting up a business in the babies and kids segment. During my second maternity leave I was inspired by my ‘new life’ and my new interests and preferences towards toys and accessories for babies and children. I must say that I didn’t really have a choice – I felt that I had to do this – I had to start making my own products in this for me totally new category. I felt the need to explore my creative talent. I had already worked on the strategic level for many years, and now I wanted to use my more creative and practical skills, and that is what I started doing when founding natureZOO. My occasion to start the business was my children, because they moved me into this new world of baby products, but my foundation is my creative instinct, my intuition, my personal style and my high demand for only best quality products.

How do you bring the demands of children and wishes of parents on aesthetics harmoniously together?

V. B.: I design the products from the parent’s point of view, because I am not blind to the fact that most of the times it is the parents that decide which product to buy. But I always include my own 3 children in the process, because I think it is important that the toy is also being developed with the baby or child in mind. I show my children the sketches and samples of our new products and ask them what they think. I also ask if they can see what kind of animal it is. Our style is rather simple, and we don’t always use the traditional colours of the animals or the traditional body of the animal (the head is always quite close to the real animal’s head). So, sometimes the animal is kind of in disguise. But children they know what kind of animal it is, even when adults don’t. Because the children just use their childish intuition and don’t get affected by the fact that the colour and the animal’s body is different in the toy version than in real life.

Sir Lion
Sir Lion convinces children with timeless design.

How is this Scandinavian design reflected in your toys to make it distinguishable? By the materials, the shapes, the colours?

V. B.: The natureZOO products are very simple, classic and timeless. Our universe is the amazing world of this planet’s animals, and we really don’t have any limitations in regard to product development, because there are so many amazing animals in this world. So, we never get short of new designs. We always keep a simple style of the animal without too many details, and the body is also simplified and altered a bit to fit our classic and timeless design. And animals never get out of fashion – they will always be classic and timeless. Our products are handmade and they are made from bamboo yarn, which are two very important elements of our products. The fact that the products are handmade really is an important attribute because it brings something very special and unique into the product.

But what makes it to Danish toys, to Danish Design?

V. B.: Basically, ‘Danish Design’ means that our toy is designed by a Danish person. Designed by a Dane. Designed by me. Also, we are not blind to the fact that the phrase  ‘Danish Design’ is an ambassador for our products. In the beginning, I didn’t focus much on the fact, that our products are Danish Design, but when being at the international trade shows, I was often asked if it was ‘Danish Design’, so I realized that even though it didn’t mean so much to me, it was something very important to people outside of Denmark. And it is not a coincidence that we have added ‘of Denmark’ to our brand name. We are aware of the fact that our origin is an important part of our brand’s DNA, it is something treasured and respected that our products are designed in Denmark, and it is an important sales parameter in the big world.

Nature Zoo owl
The owl shows the typical cool nordic colour range

Is there a Scandinavian design trend in toys?

V. B.: Yes, I do believe there is. Not only in the toy category, but in the whole baby & kids accessories category. I don’t think the trend is only focused on shape, but also very much focused on colours and about organic materials and sustainability as a whole. The trend goes towards Oeko-Tex and organic products. The Scandinavians are the ones with the highest purchase and consumption of organic food and drinks in the world. And this is quite saying for our mindset in general – we prefer pure, clean and natural products. Plastic is considered a no go, but if you do have to purchase products containing plastic, it is important that the plastic is biodegradable or even better is made from recycled plastic. 

Which novelties do you introduce in the second half of this year?

V. B.: We are actually launching a brand new plush and velour natureZOO line of teddy bears, rattles, cuddle cloths and stroller mobiles in the autumn of this year. We see the need for an additional line within our portfolio. We will of course still have a strong focus on our handmade crochet line, which is a very important part of our business and of our brand. But we also see need for more classic teddy bears made from plush and velour materials that are made from 100% organic materials. So, this new line is 100% organic, and on the stroller mobile the plastic ring is of course made from 100% recycled plastic. Some of the products are delivered in plastic bags, and these are of course also made from 100% recycled plastic. Other products are delivered in a gift box, which is made from 100% recycled paper. All of these small details are very important to the Danish /Scandinavian consumers and will be even more important in the future.

In which countries outside the four Nordic States is your design language or philosophy particularly well understood?

V. B.: Our main markets are Sweden, Finland and Germany. Currently we are in 25 countries mostly in Europe. So, that would be Germany – especially the retailers in the Northern part of Germany have quickly welcomed us into their hearts and into their stores. Especially our octopus products are very popular in Germany. I think it is because Germany doesn’t have a lot of sea – therefore the sea animals are particularly popular. We always get comments on the octopuses. Actually, we have developed many octopus products especially for the German market. For the Swedish market it has been all about the black & white products. The black & white collection is the most popular one in Sweden, and we have developed many new products only in black & white especially for Sweden. There are even shops in Sweden that only sell black & white products in their store. 

Which toy comes to your mind when you think of your own childhood?

V. B.: I mainly remember Barbie dolls and the Rubik’s Cube. Both plastic items and probably quite characteristic for the eighties, where plastic was not yet considered to be bad for neither the environment nor for the babies or children. Back then mass-produced plastic products were the thing, and were considered to be high quality and modern products. There was nothing fancy to handmade toys back then – I guess it was considered old fashioned in the non-trendy way. It is very different today, where we want everything to be kind of ‘old fashion’ in the very trendy way. We want everything to be unique and not mass produced.

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Author of this article:

Ulrich Texter

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